The COVID-19 rice economy: what a pandemic means for Southeast Asia’s staple

As cities and countries impose lockdowns, people around the world, from the UK to India, are struggling to access food. The causes vary, with some communities facing lost income and local scarcity while others deal with barriers to movement, but the drivers of this food insecurity are primarily localized and specific to each country or region.

The world isn’t running out of food, but COVID-19 is already impacting our food systems in deep and varied ways: farms in the United States are struggling to make sure they have enough migrant workers and hundreds of thousands of Indonesian fishers are now barely able to earn a living.

One of the key factors impacting our food systems is the price of rice. Food prices dropped globally in March due to cheap fossil fuels and a drop in demand triggered by the economic slowdown. The price of rice, however, rose for the third month in a row as governments began to stockpile rice and exporters began to limit supply.

In Southeast Asia, the pandemic is changing the way the region’s rice farmers and exporters do business. Demand is increasing despite the crumbling global economy and prices are rising as farmers struggle to cope with COVID-19, in addition climate change-fueled drought.

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Skylar Lindsay